Hummingbird Season: A Bonus Cover Reveal and Stephanie Lucianovic Q&A!
The internet age is, at heart, an odd age. I’m old enough to remember a time when a person, when asked, could easily come up with an answer to the question, “So, how did you two meet?” Now, thanks to that series of tubes that gives us cute cat videos, it’s a much harder question to answer. So how, exactly, did I meet Stephanie Lucianovic? Was it because she was such a fan of my podcast Fuse 8 n’ Kate (so much so that she has been officially bequeathed the title “The Third Sister” due to her ardor)? Was it because I became such a fan of her picture book The End of Something Wonderful? Does it even matter? The fact is, we’re friends now. She has a new book out in 2024, and by gum I’m going to talk to her about it and reveal her cover, because THAT is what friends do.
The book, for the record, is none other than Hummingbird Season, a middle grade verse novel that delves into that first COVID-19 year in a way that I have never seen before. Its publisher describes in this way:
“Archie’s life—and the whole world—is turned upside down by Covid-19. Suddenly there are no more Friday night dinners out, no more going to school, no more hanging out with friends…no leaving the house at all.
Even though he’s inside with his family all day every day, Archie feels more alone than ever. While everyone else seems to be adapting to their new normal just fine, it’s like Archie is permanently on mute, unable to find the words to describe how he feels—and unable to find someone who will listen. The bright spot of Archie’s days at home is watching and learning about the hummingbirds that feed outside his windows.
But just when it seems like this could be what brings his family together again, California experiences its worst wildfire in history, and Archie’s favorite hummingbird disappears. In a time when hope is hard to hold on to, Archie must find his voice and find hope once again.”
And Stephanie knows from those early COVID days. You may remember that her series of tweets about trying to do distance learning when your kid’s 2nd grade teacher’s screen has frozen went hella viral. She comes from experience. And today? She answers some of my questions before we reveal her book’s cover:
Betsy Bird: Stephanie!! Thank you so much for answering my questions! And so just to start us off, I wonder if you could give us a little background behind this book. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that it may contain some autobiographical elements or stories drawn from real life. Can you give us a peek into where this came from originally?
Stephanie Lucianovic: Absolutely! In fact, I need my children to see this in print: this book is clearly based on some of the struggles they (and so many other kids) went through during 2020, but it is not an exact telling of their day to day lives (or mine) by any means. However, I was compelled to write it literally from my couch as I sat there trying to do my own work while also helping them with whatever issues they encountered in distance learning.
Writing it was an outlet for me at first. I was processing. I felt so helpless and I wanted to do something — ANYTHING — to help them through that time. I wanted to chronicle and represent their emotions so they could feel seen, but then it became something bigger. I wanted to produce something that would help make sense of everything we were all having to go through. And if I could get it out to other readers beyond my family, maybe it could be a helping and healing force.
While not all events in the book happened to our family, there was a horrific heatwave and wildfire — the worst in CA history — that hit in September of 2020. It was a day when the sky stayed orange from morning to night. That day is in the book, as well as my viral #ZoomoftheFlies Tweet thread, which occurred on the exact same day as the orange sky. And we did work on jigsaw puzzles while listening to old radio shows to cope and avoid the maskless television shows.
Here’s the long and short of that #ZoomOfTheFlies viral thing: I was actually in the process of sort of thinking about writing down my kids’ distance learning experience that exact day. And I know that sounds a bit like I’m hedging, but sometimes you don’t know know that the thing you are writing is actually going to be A Thing until it becomes A Book Thing. Basically, I had my Moleskine notebook out, and I was capturing various thoughts, but that was just my daily life at that point. Because: writer. Then my youngest’s Zoom session lost its teacher and chaos happened. Being in the mode, I wrote that first Tweet. And then I wrote all the others while also trying to calm the chaos.
After it went viral, I wanted it to be a picture book — I even dummied it up with Post-It notes — but a picture book wasn’t in the cards. So, instead, when I continued writing this verse novel, I decided to capture that moment in amber and insert it. It was a natural and satisfactory fit.
BB: I just love that. Of course, reading this now, I suddenly realize what one of the kids in that Tweet thread meant when they kept asking everyone else to “look at the sky”. *shudder* So, to what extent were your own kids a help in writing this book? Did they have any input? Did you clarify memories with them of the time in which it takes place?
SL: Because I didn’t want my kids incorrectly thinking this book was exactly them, I didn’t clarify memories with them — I made things up, as you do. But my husband is the one with the memory for detail when I needed to ask, “Were we wiping down packages in the spring or was that summer?” because the book is divided up into seasons. Plus, I was writing it at the moments we went through it all, so that helped with timelines and details.
However, my kids were a help because they always are in my books in some form or fashion. I pull inspiration from things they say or feel and it becomes an entire book, like HELLO, STAR, or it becomes dialogue in a book, like THE LEAGUE OF PICKY EATERS. I don’t write YA at this time, so I do kind of wonder what might happen to my inspiration as they grow up. But, you know, maybe this is what will actually make me write YA!
BB: Hey, nothing wrong with that!
Because kids age so quickly (as opposed to us old fogies) when your book comes out the 9-year-olds who read it will have foggier memories of the early pandemic days than some of the older kids. Would you say that your book is aimed at those kids who can remember that time, for those kids that don’t as well, or for a mix of both?
SL: It’s meant to be both. It’s meant to validate what kids went through/are going through. Like, “Hey, I’m not pretending that didn’t happen to you. I’m not sweeping facts under the rug. What you went through sucked big time [can I say “sucked” on SLJ?] and let’s process that so we can heal.” But my agent, Jordan, and I also truly felt that this book is meant to record history and serve as a witness to it. We hope it’s timeless in that sense.
BB: For the record, you can always say “sucked” on SLJ, yes. So I was talking with a friend the other day about the current crop of books for kids about the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic vs. the historical titles that will come out in the future. I can already hear future children saying to themselves, “You got to stay home all day? I wish I got to do that!” What misconceptions do you feel HUMMINGBIRD SEASON might correct in the course of things?
SL: Well, how it was not great to be so dependent on screens. Like, I knew my kids loved the screens in the beginning, but for them to be faced with them day in and day out and having to deal with all the connectivity issues or weird-finger-swipe issues that deleted all their work really made them hate screens. At least for a bit. I think they’re over that now.
But also to get across that staying home was horrifically boring and weird, and that we all felt trapped with a closed-down world that seemed to have stopped and we didn’t know when it would start again. The lack of in-person connection to friends really drove that feeling home, I think.
BB: What turned out to be the most difficult part of this book to write? “Difficult” either in a personal or professional sense.
SL: The actual writing came quite easily to me, as it sometimes does with certain books. As this is my first verse-novel, I loved how the poetry really allows you to get to the deepest core emotions. However, there came a time when I had to add more levity and hope, which seemed unnatural to me. And, don’t get me wrong, I understood that this book could not be a sad slog from beginning to end if it was going to sell, but I wrote it when it was truly difficult to find hope at the time. It felt like a lie to not represent exactly what was going on in reality. But it was a necessary thing to achieve because I know readers need that takeaway of hope as much as they need the acknowledgement of the truth in stories.
There was also a point where my editor, Alex Borbolla, suggested we really build out the brothers’ relationship to give it a full arc. That was WORK because I tend to get so caught up in pacing and natural transitions that I overthink where and when to execute something like that. However, Alex is a dream editor and she gently guided me through revisions on that part until we got what we wanted. I feel really lucky this book landed with her.
BB: Was there anything you wanted to include in the book that you weren’t able to or had to cut for some reason?
SL: I wanted to include that some members of our community didn’t have equitable access to the internet and talk about how they were sitting outside of a local Taco Bell to do their homework. But I also felt that wasn’t my story to tell, and it would have felt opportunistic or exploitative to try to wedge it in Archie’s story when clearly those kids deserve a story all their own.
BB: Good call. Finally, what are you working on next?
SL: Well, I have five books coming out in the next two years, including a picture book about a kid who experiences anxiety during a school lockdown drill, so I’m mostly spending my time preparing to launch those projects. But — and this is directed at you, Betsy — I am also determined to finally get back to a certain chapter book series where some pillbug triplets solve buggish mysteries that keep cropping up at the mysterious Crackenthorpe Manor.
Gee. That book about the Crackenthorpe Manor sounds awfully interesting. Wonder what it will consist of?
This is the moment when I shall reveal to you the cover. Please note, though, that it contains art from Karyn S. Lee (and you can find Karyn on both Twitter and Instagram) and design from Jeanette Levy.
Hummingbird Season comes out February 13, 2024, if you can believe it. Many thanks to Stephanie for answering my questions (and even offering me additional information as recently as last night!). Can’t wait to see this book!
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
SLJ Blog Network